Food Talk
King Curry

The Indian curry has competed with international cuisines and emerged a winner, Pushpesh Pant lets the readers on to the secret of dishing up curry in a hurry.

Believe us, the most fastidious gourmets do not live by qurmas, kaliyas, do pyazas and salans. There are days when they yearn for nothing more than an unpretentious curry—mutton, chicken, fish or egg. The word nowadays has become synonymous with tari or gravy and there is need to remove some culinary cobwebs.

It is sad that a delicacy that lends itself to infinite improvisations and has myriad recipes, each different from the other, is treated like Cinderella before her transformation—a stepchild of a lesser god. It is only the senior citizens who recall with a warm glow the succor provided by an unexpectedly well-made curry in a Dak bungalow or railway dinning car.

The curry is a truly pan-Indian dish- there is Govan fish curry, and Kerala prawn curry, maccher jhol is certainly not be confused with the mug cooks fish curry. Anglo-Indian ‘bad word’ (meat balls!) curry is not the well-known kofta. The popularity of egg curry remains undiminished in hostels and canteens across the land-a half way house between vegetarian and carnivore land.

The origins are of the popular English word are traced to kaikaari in Tamil. For the Brahmins, it represents a vegetable dish cooked with spice and coconut. Kari, for Nadars, is a spicy meat dish that may or may not have gravy. It is in any cases the main dish in an Indian meal. It is reasonable to conclude that it was the English factors that first encountered these delicacies on the Coromandal coast and were seduced, despite the hard to handle fiery temperament, by their tantalising tang. Curry powder was their invention not an Indian culinary secret. A pinch of turmeric, a hint of chilies, a bit of friendly aromatic cumin and maybe coriander powders all ground together — convenient but certainly not authentic. How Worcestershire sauce was serendipitously created when broken bottles of vinegar drenched loosely packed curry powder in the bowels of a ship tossed about on stormy seas makes an interesting tale, but we digress.

In Indian homes curry is invariably prepared with freshly ground masala preferably on grinding stone or in a mortal and pestle. The art is to fry the masala with the onions, garlic and ginger just right to obtain the desired colour and flavour. House recipes do have secret deshi ingredients — small things — handed down from grandma and mom-in-law or gifted generously by a family retainer an aromatic substance little-known and half-forgotten by celebrity chefs. Garam masala powder from the packet is avoidable — it makes everything tastes the same. The same rule applies to being generous with tomatoes to add body or colour the gravy.

Not long ago the doctors used to blame the poor curry for everything. Hurry, worry and curry caused ulcers. A hot curry could precipitate piles and, of course, it was poison for patients of blood pressure. Thank God, better sense prevails now. One can enjoy a flavourful yet mild curry, it is your choice to make rich or light. Bon appetit!